The mild weather continues in the Bemidji area as the New Year approaches. Historically, December is only slightly colder on average than February, with January having the lowest average temperatures of the year.
The extended forecast for the Bemidji area predicts single-digit lows a couple of nights but still no drop into the deep freeze through the first week in January.
The lakes are making good strong ice but they are making it at a very slow rate because of warmer than average temperatures.
Anyone living close to a lake or fishing on the ice will hear the loud booming sounds when the weather turns cold. The booming sound is the ice expanding as the lake makes more ice.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area have between nine and 15 inches of ice. A few anglers have started to drive vehicles onto some lakes but the most common modes of travel are still ATVs, snowmobiles or walking.
Many anglers have been driving on Upper Red Lake which has between 13 and 16 inches of good ice. Most anglers have been fishing walleyes along the shoreline break but improving ice conditions have allowed anglers to spread out and move further from shore in their search for active walleyes.
Upper Red Lake is somewhat unique with its relative lack of structure. There are two drop-offs between shore and the basin in most areas, with one break between five and eight feet and another between nine and 12 feet where the basin begins.
The lack of structure in Upper Red Lake makes it harder for anglers who are used to fishing structure to know where to start fishing. When walleyes spread out into the basin they are usually following baitfish and paying little attention to structure.
Anglers may need to use a more random approach to finding walleyes when the fish move into the basin. The stained water in Upper Red Lake allows light-sensitive species like walleyes to feed during the day, so anglers need to keep moving until they locate some fish.
Anglers can expect some level of activity from the walleyes at any time of day, if they find the right location. It is usually a good idea to stay a reasonable distance from other anglers on Upper Red Lake because noise in shallow water eventually spooks the fish.
Anglers can drill a single test hole and fish it for about 10 minutes to see if they can catch a walleye or at least see some fish on sonar. If anglers don't catch a walleye fairly quickly they should move a hundred yards or more and try again.
Anglers should wait until they find a spot where they catch a couple of walleyes (preferably keepers) before they drill more holes and set-up a fish house.
Walleyes are usually aggressive in stained water lakes so anglers can use more aggressive presentations with baits that have rattles or extra flash to help fish locate and target the baits.
Horizontal rattle baits or blade baits make vibrations and extra noise that can help draw in fish from longer distances, especially in the dark stained water.
Most anglers do not use live bait with rattle or blade baits because a minnow or minnow head can act like a weed and inhibit the action of the lure. A way to add scent to the lures without negatively affecting the action is to add a small scented plastic or a couple of eurolarve to one or more of the hooks.
Flutter spoons are another option for anglers fishing walleyes on Upper Red Lake or other shallow lakes. Flutter spoons don't usually work as well in deep water because they take too long to sink to the bottom, but they can be very deadly in shallow water.
Flutter spoons are usually longer spoons that are thin and light so they shoot out to the side of the hole as they fall to the bottom. Once the flutter spoon hits bottom, anglers can lift their rod tip and let the spoon flutter back to the center of the hole.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.